I am almost ashamed to admit that I have never read anything by John Ralston Saul before. Not his early novels, not his philosophical trilogy, nothing. So when I saw Dark Diversions at the library, I had to pick it up. I don’t really know what I was expecting from Saul, but this was not it. Dark Diversions is billed as a novel, but in essence is really more a set of loosely linked stories. It is unlikely that this would prove an issue for anyone other than me, but I have an unexplainable dislike of short stories. I think I was also expecting something a little denser and philosophical from Saul.
At its heart Dark Diversions is about the rich people of the world. I don’t mean well off or middle class people, but the truly rich. In each story or chapter our unnamed narrator happens to be visiting rich friends and acquaintances in far flung corners of the world. That some of these include dictators, political elites and fading aristocrats, as well as the new rich intrigued me. I thought we were going to get a taste of some of what Saul saw as the husband of the erstwhile Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson. I thought we were going to get something that was more overtly political.
Instead, the arc of the novel is more about how our narrator increasingly inserts himself into narrative. He starts out the novel being rather objective and hands off in his recounting of the facts. By the end of the novel his is thoroughly embroiled in the lives of those he is visiting. This gentle progression is pierced midway through the novel with a moment of self exploration or realization on the part of the narrator. He questions whether or not the writer is in fact the same person as the narrator. How are we to know either way?
Frankly, being stuck where I am, between the writer and you, is unpleasant and uncomfortable. I didn’t ask for the job. It’s not as we were soulmates, the author and I. For one thing, he is tall and thin. He eats like a pig and never gains a pound. I’m medium and have to watch my weight… I’ll tell you this much – I write better than him and faster.
Who would like this book? I am at a bit of a loss to say definitively who would like this book. It really did not leave much of an impression on me either way. It was just there. The writing, of course, is supreme, but we expect that from Saul. Obviously, any die hard fan of Saul’s other writings will be interested in reading Dark Diversions, but beyond that who is this novel meant for? It is not especially, or even remotely, ‘Canadian’ and I thought it might be. It does not court controversy and I thought it might.